Social isolation and loneliness are a public health concern because they are associated with poor mental and physical health outcomes and mortality. Social isolation is defined as have few, or no, social connections, and not participating in activities with others. Loneliness is defined as feeling unsatisfied about the amount of social engagement in one’s life.
Before the current pandemic, people with disabilities reported significantly higher rates of social isolation and loneliness than those without disabilities. Inaccessible events and buildings, limited accessible public transportation, social stigma, and lower rates of employment all contribute to these high rates. When restrictions are put in place to help protect people from COVID-19, what happens to these rates?
To learn more about how COVID-19 and public health responses such as stay-at-home orders may contribute to feelings of social isolation and loneliness among people with disabilities, RTC:Rural researchers compared data from two cross-sectional samples collected before and after the first wave of “stay-at-home” orders.
Rural/urban differences in trust in sources and preventative practices
Public health is shaped by community-level action. This is especially important during crises such as COVID-19, where widespread adoption of public health practices is necessary to manage community spread and prevent loss. Consistent information is important for fostering trust and adherence to recommended practices.
RTC:Rural’s newest research brief examines how rural people with disabilities use different types of transportation. These include being a driver, asking others for rides, special transportation services, reduced-fare taxis, and public transportation.
People with disabilities, especially in rural areas, still report transportation as a significant barrier to full inclusion and participation in community life, nearly 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Understanding how people with disabilities get around is an important first step for improving transportation options.
Using data from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey, this research brief explores travel behaviors and characteristics of rural and urban people with disabilities.
While many Americans will suffer in the coming recession, people with disabilities in rural areas are especially vulnerable because they are less likely to have an emergency savings fund, have access to paid leave, or be able to work from home.
On February 11, 2020, RTC:Rural Director Catherine Ipsen and Research Associate Lillie Greiman presented as part of a panel at the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium. Their presentation was titled “Uncovering the intersection of rural and disability.”
Christiane von Reichert, professor of Geography at the University of Montana and a RTC:Rural research partner, was also part of the panel. Her presentation was titled “Using the ACS PUMS to examine disability and migration.”
Project Director Lillie Greiman and RTC:Rural Director Dr. Catherine Ipsen recently co-authored an article in The Conversation about proposed changes to disability benefits and how those could make it harder for people with disabilities, especially those in rural communities, to maintain federal benefits.
In order to create policies and programs that serve the needs of
people with disabilities in rural communities, it is important to know things
about them, such as demographic information and location. The federal
government maintains several large data sets that collect this information.
However, it can be difficult to access rural disability data from these data
sets (see Data Limitations in the American Community
Survey: The Impact on Rural Disability Research).
To address this, RTC:Rural is conducting rural analyses of
existing large data sets to contribute to a national disability statistics
“Attending CANAR meetings allows us to meet face to face
with our advisors and reach a broader audience of tribal stakeholders,” said
Ipsen. “Together, we are developing a resource that is appropriate across
tribal vocational rehabilitation programs.”
In the paper, Repke and Ipsen analyze survey data from the
Reform and Disability Survey to explore how a number of factors are related
to social participation and perceived isolation for people with disabilities,
and to see if there are differences for those who live in rural vs urban areas.
These factors include number of disabilities, self-rated health, employment
status, and living arrangements (alone or with others).
Previous studies have compared social isolation to smoking
in terms of risk to public health. Some groups of people have a much higher
risk of social isolation, including people with disabilities and rural
residents. This research builds on previous work by considering how the
potentially compounding effects of disability status and living in a rural area
may affect social participation and perceived isolation.
The passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act (ACA) and adoption of Medicaid expansion was associated with substantial
increases in insurance coverage across the United States (see Changes
in coverage and access, MACPAC 2019). However, RTC:Rural
researchers wanted to know how ACA policy changes and Medicaid expansion impacted
people with disabilities, particularly those who live in rural areas.
To explore this question, RTC:Rural researchers analyzed
microdata from the 2008-2013 American Community Survey
Using these data, they were able to compare how insurance coverage has changed
over time for people with and without disabilities in rural and urban places,
and in expansion and non-expansion states.